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Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Estimating Midewiwin Antiquity with AMS Radiocarbon Dates from Canadian Shield Rock Paintings

Under the supervision of Dr. Christopher Carr, William R. Weeks will examine the origins of the Midewiwin. The Midewiwin is the traditional medicine society of the Anishinaabeg?the good-hearted native people of northeastern North America. According to Anishinaabeg traditions, the Midewiwin is an ancient ancestral institution that continues to ensure the well-being of the people to this day. However, the prevalent anthropological view, derived largely from ethnohistory, maintains that the Midewiwin originated during the colonial period as a revitalization movement. <br/><br/>The antiquity of the Midewiwin is uncertain from an archaeological perspective. Archaeologists have discovered prehistoric artifacts and features around the Great Lakes that share similarities with the historic Midewiwin, but most are rare and ambiguous in that they may be attributed to widespread forms of Algonquian ceremonialism. Methodologically novel to Mr. Weeks's research is the systematic identification of images that are diagnostic of the Midewiwin. These signs have been used to identify 37 rock painting sites in the Canadian Shield where Midewiwin ceremonies were likely performed. These sites are not yet dated, although most are assumed to be late prehistoric in age. This project will estimate the age of five key Midewiwin rock painting sites with AMS radiocarbon dates derived from small samples of organic material in the paint or associated, bracketing mineral deposits. The organic materials will be extracted from the paints using plasma-chemical oxidation or from the deposits employing micro-excavation.<br/><br/>Archaeological research on Midewiwin origins holds strong promise for making substantial contributions to anthropological knowledge, method, and theory. This project, as the first major effort to radiocarbon date Midewiwin rock paintings, offers the opportunity to explore whether the institution had early, pre-contact origins, and how the Anishinaabeg may have altered it socially, politically, and religiously over time in response to colonial challenges. Through this detailed case study, general models of how cultural contact, change, and revitalization unfold can be contextualized, scrutinized, and elaborated. In addition, the dating of Midewiwin rock paintings will allow investigation of the history of migration of the Anishinaabeg as told by their ancestral oral and graphic traditions, and thereby encourage professional anthropologists, archaeologists, and scientists alike in their sensitivity to native bodies of knowledge.<br/><br/>Central to the broad impacts of this research for professional anthropology are the integration and participation of native North American peoples who are underrepresented in academic institutions, particularly in the practice of archaeology. Mr. Weeks is Cherokee and this award will assist in his graduate training. Further, this project involves cooperative work with Anishinaabeg communities in the U.S. and Canada, including the conducting of archaeological fieldwork, interpreting results, developing educational workshops for native youths, and presenting findings at professional conferences. One of the major goals of this research is to inspire future native students to become professional archaeologists, who will enhance educational institutions with their culturally diverse insights.

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